It is “plain wrong” for MPs to be claiming taxpayers’ cash for rent while earning money for letting out properties they already own in London, a senior Tory has said.
According to a report in The Times, fourteen MPs, nearly all of them Conservatives, claim rent on their parliamentary expenses even though they already own a home in the capital that they are renting out to a tenant.
The arrangement is not against the rules governing MPs’ expenses, but there has been a call for the “loophole” to be closed.
Many of those who make claims for rent are critical of the system and claim it ends up costing taxpayers more in the long run.
But they say they have been forced into doing so because the system does not allow them to claim mortgage interest payments as expenses.
One of the MPs who uses the arrangement is Tory MP Sir Geoffrey Cox, who has recently come under scrutiny for his earnings outside Parliament and claims that he misused his Commons office.
The former attorney general, who has defended his consultancy work and denies any wrongdoing in relation to his parliamentary office, is entitled to claim accommodation costs for staying in London as he has a constituency outside the capital.
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Records show that up until 2017 he was claiming between £8,000 and £9,000 a year in “associated costs”, such as energy bills and service charges, on a home he owned.
But the following year his claims increased to £22,000 a year when he moved into a rented property.
Sir Geoffrey’s declaration in the register of members’ interests showed that from November 2017 he was receiving more than £10,000 a year from renting out a home in London.
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Sir Alistair Graham, former chairman of the committee on standards in public life, described the arrangement as a “loophole” that “needs to be closed”.
“MPs have got a personal responsibility to only use public funds where really necessary,” he told The Times.
“If they have flats in London then they shouldn’t call on public funds, simple as that.”
Conservative Sir Roger Gale, who has been MP for North Thanet in Kent since 1983, was also critical, telling Times Radio: “Well, I think the situation that you’ve described, if it is correct, is plain wrong.”
He said while it may technically be within the regulations, “it’s wholly against the spirit of what is happening”.
“The intention was not that you should rent one place and let out another.”
He added: “I rent a room at a friend’s flat for about a quarter of the allowance that I’m allowed to spend because it’s congenial.
“And it’s value for money, as far as I’m concerned it’s value for taxpayers’ money because it is taxpayers’ money. And we need to remember that.”
The expenses scandal in 2009 saw the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) handed authority for the regulation and payment of expenses to MPs.
IPSA said the rules were last reviewed in 2017 and it was decided to keep the arrangement in place.
In response to media enquiries on Friday it said that position remains the same and there are currently no plans to scrap or alter the arrangement.
“We recognise that there can be a perception of personal gain if an MP receives rental income from their own property while living in an IPSA-funded flat,” IPSA said.
“However, our view has not changed that an MP’s personal financial situation is not a relevant ‘test’ for whether they should receive support from IPSA.
“We do not want to judge an MP’s private arrangements and whether or not they should live in a property they own.
“Our concern is to ensure that MPs have the appropriate support they need to carry out their parliamentary roles, including suitable accommodation in two locations.”